What Is A High Court Planning Decision Worth?

Early this year residents of Aughton celebrated the decision of the High Court that denied the appeals of developers to build on Parrs Lane Aughton after the Aughton Residents Group and its supporters fought developers and the Tory plan . But the New Labour Local Plan now endangers that decision as expressed in informal advice that “It is true that the new Local Plan will ‘supersede’ the current one as you say, actually it is more accurate to say that it will ‘subsume’ the existing one giving us a 2012 -2050 LP.  When a Local Authority conducts a LP Review it does not start with a blank sheet of paper but has to use the existing LP as a baseline and so…the fact that the Parrs Lane site was placed in Safeguarded status means it was always very highly likely that it would eventually be released for development”. Never mind that the High Court decision was bought and paid for with public taxes of “Counsel’s fees for legal advice and representation in the sum of £81,248.35 in connection with the two joint planning inquiries held in 2016 and 2018. Of that figure, £44,592.75 was incurred in connection with the first inquiry and £36,655.60 for the second inquiry”. 

In December 2015 the Government began a consultation on the revision of the 2012 Framework. This consultation document stated that the existing Framework reinforced the “central role of local and neighbourhood plans in the planning system”, did not mention the word strategic at all and proposed no substantial changes to the neighbourhood plan system.

In March 2018 the Government began a further consultation on the Framework. It contained a new paragraph 14 confirming the status of a neighbourhood plan in meeting housing supply needs, confirming the Written Ministerial Statement in December 2016, “to provide additional certainty for neighbourhood plans in certain circumstances”. It also introduced the concept of ‘strategic’ policies and the need for these policies to be “distinguished clearly”. The consultation closed on 10th May.

On 24th July the final version of the Framework was formally adopted. It contained a raft of subtle changes, not included in the original consultation document, that suggest a fundamental shift in the planning policy superstructure away from local in favour of strategic, even regional, plan policy making.

There is a new definition of “Non-Strategic policies” defined as “Policies contained in a neighbourhood plan, or those policies in a plan that are not strategic policies”. In addition Paragraph 18 refers to neighbourhood plans that contain ‘just non-strategic policies”. This clearly demotes all neighbourhood plan policies to the ‘second tier’ of the new policy hierarchy. Paragraph 30 then goes on to say that “Once a neighbourhood plan has been brought into force, the policies it contains take precedence over existing non-strategic policies in a local plan covering the neighbourhood area, where they are in conflict.” This suggests that, however recently they were adopted, neighbourhood plan policies will not have such automatic precedence over any strategic policy.

Strategic policies are moreover defined with reference to section 19 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, that in turn allows London Borough Councils, Mayoral development corporations, and local authorities within Combined Authority Areas to have strategic policies that are not part of their development plan documents.

It cannot be entirely coincidental that the Combined Authorities (Spatial Development Strategy) Regulations 2018 were laid before Parliament just before the new Framework was published and came into force just afterwards. These regulations allow the mayoral combined authorities of Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region and the West of England to produce and amend spatial development strategies, mirroring the powers that the Mayor of London already has to produce and amend the London Plan.

Neither the principle nor the substance of most of these changes formed part of either consultation, but the Government’s position seems clear. The new Framework introduces a two-tier hierarchy of policies: strategic and non-strategic. Strategic policies may be contained in either a development plan or a spatial development strategy made by combined authorities and mayoral combined authorities. The National Planning Policy Guidance still states that “A neighbourhood plan attains the same legal status as the Local Plan once it has been approved at a referendum.” but such plans are now in fact doomed to occupy a permanent state of permanent relegation in the second tier of this new planning policy hierarchy.

At the Aughton Parish Council tonight it has been suggested that the High Court Decision to uphold safeguarded land, Parrs Lane in particular, will not be valid from when the New Local Plan is implemented after all its stages. Parrs Lane, and the other side of Parrs Lane too, will probably be open to development from 2022, after consultations, the usual Public Inquiry, and possible appeals.

We’ve been shafted. It started in 2011 and it continues in 2018. Shafting by local politicians is only to be expected. Those who dream it might not happen are deluded. Agriculture will die. Farm land owners are looking for easy money. And in West Lancashire the new Local Plan is their pot of gold. As Parrs Lane loses, so will Altys Lane, Lyelake Lane, Dickets Lane, Rainford Road, and others. Just realise that while your borough councils pays its legal bills with your council tax, behind your back they are facilitating the selling of our highest grade agricultural land to developers.

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